Growing up, my whole life was about becoming a football player. My stepfather helped build some boundaries and practices into my life that enabled me to reach my dreams. Each day as he dropped me off four miles from our house and drove home to make me breakfast, he challenged me to be the best I could be—to become the man I was made to be. He called me out to be a man. But nothing he did could prepare me for the devastating blow to my dreams that occurred on a practice field in Youngstown, Ohio.

During a routine practice, an eager freshman dove for a loose ball, diving right into my left knee. As soon as he made impact with me, I heard and felt my knee rip. The trainers rushed me to the hospital where the doctors told me I had torn all three major ligaments in my knee and would require reconstructive surgery the next morning. I was shocked. In a single moment, my hope was stolen. Would I ever play football again? I wondered. They put a soft cast on my knee, gave me a number of ice bags, and sent me back to the dormitory.

Alone and scared, I sat in Kilcawley Hall at Youngstown State, wondering about my future, when a campus minister knocked on my door. It was Bill. I had met him earlier on campus. He asked if he could come in land talk to me because he had heard about my injury. Bill asked, “Can I share a verse of Scripture with you, Ed?” So he did and then added, “Ed, you’ve got a lot of things going for you, but you lack one thing—and that’s a personal relationship with Jesus.” I remember looking at him and saying, “What can Jesus do for me here?” He shared the gospel story with me and read a single verse I had never heard before: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

I didn’t understand why God would do that for me; but I knew I was in trouble, and I was broken. I also knew for the first time that I had tried to pay for all of my own sin—and I couldn’t do it anymore. So I received Christ that day. I asked Him to come into my heart and pay for my sin. After I prayed. Bill did something he said later was out of character for him to do. He reached out and laid his hand on my ice bag and prayed a simple prayer, “Jesus, heal Ed’s knee.”

The next morning, the trainer came to take me to the hospital. I couldn’t feel much in my leg because of the cast. After Dr. Michael Vuksta, our team physician, studied the X-rays, he began shaking his head. He looked at me and said, “Here are the X-rays of your knee yesterday, and here they are today. I don’t understand it, but somehow all of your ligaments have been reattached. There is nothing wrong with your knee.” Those words struck me, breaking me emotionally and spiritually.

There’s a Father who always loves us. He found a broken football player in Youngstown, Ohio, and gave me a new beginning.

After I left the hospital, I went on a long walk. I was crying. God had just healed me and touched me. As I sat down on a bench, I remember praying and feeling the words of God come into my heart. I had been asking Him most of the day, “What do You want me to do with my life?” And I heard these words, “I want you to play pro football, but when I call for your life back, I want you to give it back to me.” I said, “You want me to play pro football? If I knew You were this cool, I would’ve given my life to You a long time ago!”

Fore the first time in my life, I was living in the smile of my heavenly Father. I knew He loved me—and I loved Him. It wasn’t about what I did; it was about whose son I was.

How Jesus lived in His Father’s smile

Have you ever wondered how Jesus lived each day under the smile of His Father? After calling the church to lay aside everything that keeps us from experiencing God’s promises, the writer of Hebrews explains how we can run the race just like Jesus, living each moment in the complete acceptance of God’s love and tenderness for us:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Do you see it? “The joy set before Him.” Jesus lived for the smile of His Father, for the good things He knew God had in store for Him.

Do you love your kids with the same intention with which God loves you, so that “the love wherewith He loves you may be in them”?

My youngest son, Joshua, lives the way I want to live. Recently, while we were throwing the baseball, he was scorching my hand with the speed of his pitches from 15 feet away. Every pitch was with all his strength.

I asked him, “Josh, could you throw it a little slower? You are breaking my hand.” He simply replied, “I can’t, dad. I just have a powerful arm.”

He runs the same way, with all his heart. I admire the courage and release he lives in. I wonder if that is what Jesus was trying to teach His disciples when He told them that the Kingdom of God must be entered like a little child would enter. That courage only emerges from a deep trust.

As fathers, we must be diligent to instill in our children the difference between living under the smile of their Father versus feeling their need to earn His smile. We do this by modeling God’s love for them—your love for them is not based on what they do, but is based simply on the fact that they are your son or daughter. And we teach them how God’s love for them operates in the same manner. As they begin to understand this concept, they will naturally gravitate toward pursuing the dreams God has placed in their own hearts.

Smiles to dreams

After I finished playing at Youngstown State, I was off to the National Football League. I remember going to a rookie camp in Hempstead, New York. On the training camp depth chart, I was listed as the seventh center—and I was last in line. Throughout training camp, I watched the favor of the Lord move me all the way to second on the depth chart. And my career went like professional athletic careers go. I played for the Jets, and then moved to play with the Los Angeles Rams. Then I came back to New York for a year to play with the Giants before I joined the Philadelphia Eagles.

One night during training camp with the Eagles, I couldn’t sleep. Have you ever had one of those nights when you just can’t sleep because you know the Lord wants to speak to you about something? So I grabbed my Bible and went for a walk out on the field. As I was walking, I heard the Lord say, “Give it back and preach the gospel.”

I was reluctant to give it back. I was living what I thought was my dream. I had worked very hard to achieve it. I resisted that still small voice. On the first snap of practice the next morning I tore the ligaments in my knee again, effectively ending my career. It was the Lord’s way of awakening me to my next dream—a dream that would end up being significantly more fulfilling than yesterday’s tired dream, which I was trying so desperately to hang on to. With my understanding of God’s unconditional love for me, I began to pursue with complete abandonment the new dream He placed in my heart. Since I knew He loved me no matter what, where was the risk? I couldn’t disappoint Him by pursuing the dreams He instilled in me.

I don’t know how many times I have watched myself and others do things for the wrong audience. The truth is this: The audience you perform for reflects the approval you seek.

But the Lord has changed the audience for this old football player. I see my heavenly Father there. And I see His Son. Sure, there are some people I would love to have there, but I know that ultimately it’s what God thinks that really matters and grows us into the person He has called us to become.

It’s the same with your kids. Are they living under the smile of their Father in heaven? To get there, they first must have your smile. Children who don’t know the smile of their fathers have a hard time hearing God’s call for their lives. They don’t know how to make sacrifices, take risks, and obtain all that their dreams entail. But you can change the destiny of your children’s lives by instilling those truths in them. You can make a difference in their lives that is true and lasting.

Reprinted from The Difference a Father Makes by Ed Tandy McGlasson © 2004 Ampelon Publishing. Used with permission from Ampelon Publishing.